Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Iraq in Nicaragua

As some of you know, the standard length of deployment was recently changed for the Army from 12 months to 15 months. And while it doesn’t sound that different, for those of us who were looking forward to having soldiers home in two months, to now be looking at five or six months more, it’s a big difference. I can’t speak for everyone who’s over there either, but I would think it’s even more difficult for them.

I’ve never been thrilled with the war in Iraq. But after protesting before it began and feeling utterly ignored and disenfranchised by my government once it was underway, I did what most Americans did, ignore it.

Once Jesse was deployed last June, however, I didn’t have that luxury. Over two deployments he’s now spent 21 months in Iraq and has six more to go. I love the dedication to his principles that led him to join the Army. I hate what he has to go through every day and what the same people who are causing his situation are creating for America in the rest of the world.

I know I’m preaching to the choir, and in fact, I’m going to stop here so that it doesn’t truly become preaching. I would love to tell you what the answer is, or some little quick thing you could do to help, like calling a phone number, but if it were that easy, it would be over by now.

I’m writing to let all of you know what my experience is like here, and the Iraq war is part of it. It is in the news I read every day, it is in the conversations Nicaraguans have with each other about the state of affairs in the world (specifically which country the US is involved in war with now), it is in my heart when I hear about families, both Iraqi and American, who will never be whole again. There, but for the grace of God, go I - John Bradford.

Jesse's Squad in 2006

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Casa Asis

Gunther and I went to the Baby’s House today and it was everything I hoped it would be! Cheesy, I know, but who can resist the sea of little faces running up to greet you?!

The first baby I saw when I arrived wasn’t doing any running. She’s only seven months old and came to the house a month ago from the Atlantic coast. She was smiling, happy, drinking from a bottle and would giggle and look at you when you greeted her. The only thing that would give any indication that she was different from most American babies was how skinny she was. She’d had a good diet at the orphanage for the last month, but it still wasn’t enough to make up for previous neglect. At times when I see that kids, it's astounds me to think of what they've been through. It's absolutely unimaginable to me.

The chicos are the littler kids, babies to 3 or 4 years old. They’re the ones who run up as soon as they see you and ask your name, how you’re doing and give the arms in the air signal for ‘would you pick me up?’ They’re the ones who hardly remember, if at all, an adult that isn't just loving.

The grandes are the older kids, they’re 5 to 8 years old. They were in school when I met them and while they needed a reason to run up to me, one as small as me taking a picture of the classroom was enough. When I asked them if it was okay with them if I took a picture, they lined themselves up toward the back of the room. But as I counted to three, they started darting in front of each other so they could best be seen in the picture. This is what I got at the count of three -

The house is located on the shore of Lake Nicaragua and aside from being a beautiful area, there is a wonderful consistent breeze. I was invited by Sister Alana who runs the house to come back any time, and while it’s a little drive from the offices, I’m sure I’ll take her up on it!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Meeting Times

Yes, I know time is not the same in Central American. Ignoring the fact that we don’t observe daylight savings time and so sometimes I’m on Central Time and at others, on Mountain Time (this has mostly been confusing lately with the US, Mexico and Europe all changing daylight savings time on different weekends), the concept of time itself is different.

There have still been a few surprises, however. First all these events have taken place over just three days. I mean, I understand having issues here and there, but really?

One night it was decided we would leave at 8:00 in the morning. I thought I knew what that meant, but THEN, they said 8:00 in the morning, AMERICAN. You might think that it means actually 8:00, but it really means 8:30.

Another night at 7:30, it was decided we needed to have a meeting at 8:30. This actually means that no meeting will take place. I knocked on the door of one of the other people involved, but when I got the impression they fell asleep watching TV, it was my cue to give up really really easily.

When they say we’re leaving at 3:30 to go to Managua, it actually means 3:15. Yes, there are times when they are early.

So the conclusion that I’ve reached is that if they give you a time, you can at least count on it not happening at that EXACT time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Littlest Lizard

So I haven’t moved into my final room yet because the air conditioner isn’t working. So yesterday I finally decided to unpack in the room I’m currently staying it (partly to be more comfortable, partly because it’s amazing how that always seems to speed up the process of moving).

When I went to unpack a bag I haven’t gotten into as much, I lifted out a shirt and jumped as something scurried out of the bag and over the side. Yes, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, it was a tiny little lizard.

I’ve seen them all over the place, they love my bathroom windows. Apparently we’ll be getting more as we begin the rainy season in a few weeks too. But for the time being, I don’t mind. For some reason they’re not nearly as creepy as spiders. They're about 3" long and run incredibly fast, so my main concern is accidentally squishing one someday.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Another Power Outage

The heat hasn’t been as bad as I was anticipating. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to move without breaking a sweat that wouldn’t evaporate due to the humidity. Apparently it has been in the 90’s with fairly high humidity, but for some reason, it hasn’t bothered me, until a few nights ago.

After getting back from the interviews in Managua, I spent the evening in my air conditioned room answering emails and reading the paper.

It was raining pretty hard (I love how you can hear it approaching) and the power went out throughout the whole city. Now, being in a third world country, I was prepared. I have my headlamp (as you know from the last power outage story) and my laptop has a nice long battery so I don’t have to stop working.

What I don’t have a back-up power supply for, however, is the air conditioning. And while it was raining outside, it certainly wasn’t any cooler out there than it was rapidly becoming inside. So I decided to go ahead and just go to sleep and that if I got really desperate, I could open up the fridge in my room and cool of for a minute or so with that.

Of course, I didn’t think about the fact that for the fridge thing to work more than once, it needs power also.

In the end, I slept okay, although a little restlessly, and I have an all new profound respect for air conditioning.

Because of that, and because it’s normal here to have it on as high as it goes, constantly, I had been leaving it on all day. But my sister has challenged me to do something for Earth Day coming up. And while I don’t think that I’ll be able to plant trees on April 22nd, or do without air conditioning altogether, I did decide that coming home to a hot room and waiting several minutes for it to cool down once I got here was entirely within my ability to handle.

In the Seattle Times on Sunday there was an article on people who are meeting the challenge of cutting back on their carbon consumption by 15%. One family that was focused on mentioned that they’ve already done all the easy stuff, so this 15% would be a real challenge, but that they were up to it.

Through chosen circumstance, I don’t have a car, I take public transportation, my room has only florescent lights (I’ve seen very few incandescent in Central America). But other than that, I’ve started eating meat (again, from the Seattle Times, a hamburger creates 9.5 lbs of greenhouse gases to get to the table) and I am definitely using electricity for my computer (to stay in touch!) and I haven’t a clue how to dispose of garbage responsibly, it’s pretty much all burned together.

So only using the air conditioner when I am in the room is my change. It sounds tiny when I write it, but it already feels pretty big. What’s yours? Feel free to add either what you’d like to do or things that you already do to the comment section below.

Also, I’m adding a link to the right to the organization my sister works for, Trees for the Future.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

First Meetings

Thursday morning we drove back to Managua to begin talking with architects and engineers who are interested in the project. NPH has an office in Managua, and we pretty much just sat down with everyone in the same room at once and talked about the number of people the project is for (500), what buildings need to get built (schools, dormitories, a clinic, chapel, offices, houses for visitors, volunteers and staff, workshops, sport courts and a separate all inclusive area for the babies), what are the important elements of each building (for example, the dormitories will be in the style of individual homes housing two caretakers and 16 kids each) and what the property is like (unfortunately Alejandro forgot to bring any pictures or topographical maps of the property, so there was lot’s of time spent explaining it and using hand gestures).

Everything seemed to go pretty well. Alejandro introduced me as an engineer because it is often the engineer who acts as the general contractor in Central America, so it was the closest he could think of to describe me. But when an architect and later another engineer asked if I was a civil engineer, I gave them the real story.

In general, I appreciated how well I was received by everyone. First, being the only person in the room who didn’t speak Spanish and second, being the only female, I wasn’t sure how it would go. But only one person (the engineer sitting right next to me) seemed to have an issue with making eye contact or acknowledging me. But even with him, I wonder if it was simply being unsure of my spanish knowledge, because towards the end of the conversation with everyone, he leaned over and tried to make small talk. We made it through a couple sentences before he just smiled and left it alone.

I think that this part of the project will be easier that I was afraid it might be in regards to how I am treated. These are all highly educated people and while some of them may be old school Latin American men, they all have a respect for people who can prove themselves through intelligence. They seem perfectly happy to give me that chance (at least for now since I haven't questioned any of their ideas, we'll see how long that lasts!). I think part of the reason behind that is because Alejandro (Construction Project Manager for all NPH countries) Marlon (National Director for Nicaragua) and Raul (Assistant to the National Director for Nicaragua), all show me quite a bit of respect and so that carries on to how the others treat me as well.

So, I suppose I could have just summarized with, everything is going pretty well so far! Now, whether or not I'll actually ever carry something myself again is something else (even though I've seen plenty of Nicaraguan women carrying heavy loads down the road, the idea of me doing anything close to physical labor is laughable to them).

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Shower Controls

It took a few minutes the first time I took a shower in Mexico to realize that C was for caliente (hot) and that when I looked, F is for Frio (cold). I can just imagine the plumber at the Best Western in Managua opening up the box of shower valves, installing the C for caliente. Then picking up the other, installing it, stepping back and saying ‘what the hell is there an H in there for?’

Friday, April 13, 2007


Just when I had gotten used to things....

I left Mexico on Tuesday, just in time to miss the earthquake last night. I packed up everything that morning (which is amazingly heavy, I suppose a lot of it is my inability to part with 15 lbs of books, my framing hammer and a plumb bob that was a present from my friend Christian), and was taken to the Pullman Bus Station. Alejandro met me there and we caught the bus to the airport, which was just under two hours away (two hours by bus, by car, driven by a Pequeno, it's a lot faster).

My visa in Mexico had expired the week before and on the advice of Ross (with NPH), I had decided to pay the $20 fine once I got to the airport instead of taking the time and spending more money to renew my visa in Mexico. No one seemed to notice or care, however, so I just left with my expired visa. I'm pretty sure things wouldn't have gone so smoothly if I was a Mexican in the US.

From there we boarded the plane and flew to Panama. Panama? Yes, it did shoot us over our goal by a couple countries, but Panama City is the major hub for Copa Airlines (the Central American arm of Continental Airlines), so all flights go into and out of Panama City. After a layover, we boarded the flight for our final destination.

Once we were through customs in Nicaragua we were greeted by some of the NPH staff in Managua. They promptly put all our bags in a taxi and sent it on it's way. Something was said about us going 'in front', and I wasn't really sure what was going on, but just followed the crowd from NPH sure that I'd know in the end. We walked through the parking lot, crossed the street and checked in at the Best Western 'in front' as in 'across the street'. The taxi was there with our bags waiting for us. Apparently Alejandro had decided that he was too tired to go to San Jorge that night, so we checked in and I spent the rest of the evening reading 'Kite Runner' in my air conditioned room. The power went out for about 10 minutes due to a thunderstorm, but I'm well prepared for that possibility with both a little flashlight and my headlamp, so I happily finished the book.

Air conditioned Best Western in Managua

Alejandro, unfortunately, had to change rooms a couple times, first his air conditioner wasn't working, then there was some major rain leakage into his room during the thunderstorm. I felt badly for him, but was soooo grateful it wasn't me.

The next morning we were greeted by Benjamin and Julio who drove us to the new property just outside Jinotepe. It was cow pasture until NPH bought it and reminds me a little of the Palouse. It's got rolling hills with elevation changes of 15 to 20 feet and a ravine about 40 feet deep. There is no surface water and we'll be digging a new well of about 120 feet. The current well is 80 ft deep and it takes about 9 seconds for a brick to hit the bottom when dropped in (who could resist?!!). The picture won't remind anyone of the Palouse, it's part of the more treed back section.

New property - View towards ravine

From there we drove to the NPH offices where I'm staying. Aside from the offices, there are several people who live here including the National Director, Marlon (and family), his assistant, Raul and several other random people I've met, but haven't figured out where they fit in yet. I'm currently staying in a visitors room and am looking forward to moving into my permanent room in a week or so. It will be nice to unpack and know I don't have to pack up again any time soon.

Aztec Nahuatl

So in case anyone besides me finds this interesting, I got a little lecture on the way to Nicaragua from Alejandro on tepec and tepe. I was asking why so many of the town end in tepec in Mexico. Apparently it's left over from the Aztec language Nahuatl (which they co-opted from earlier civilizations) and according to Alejandro means house. I've seen it translated as house as well as hill, which seems to be because 'house of' can mean small town and a small town is often associated with a nearby hill. Not that it originally meant both, but the understanding of the word changed as it was used in association with those things.

In Nicaragua, we have similar names, only here they are tepe instead of tepec. For example, the orphanage is currently on the island of Omotepe, but we're moving it closer to the town of Jinotepe. I can't easily figure out what Omo or Jino means, so we'll leave that for another day :)

Saturday, April 7, 2007


Miacatlan was a sugarcane hacienda built in 1890, in part from stolen stone from the nearby pre-columbian temple. An hour south of Cuernavaca, it was converted to house and educate kids for NPH in 1954.

The comedor (Dining Room) was originally a warehouse for the sugarcane.

All the kids and volunteers from the Cuernavaca site bused down together in NPH's yellow school buses on Thursday afternoon. A tour, mass and dinner followed, with a fair amount of just hanging out in between and after. The volunteers at Miacatlan welcomed us and we spent time with all of them during the our time there. The first night we hung out in one of the few rooms in the whole place with air conditioning, the second night celebrating the birthday of one of the volunteers, Erika, with a plate full of mango and candles and homemade ice cream.

There were futbol tournaments and basketball tournaments, swimming in the pool and visiting town to go to the market and get ice cream (the pistachio was good, the jicama with chili didn't quite work for me).

By far, however, the most important event of our time there was the old traditional Easter water fight on Saturday morning. I wasn't quite sure what we were in for, there was a lot of 'pre-guerra' talk. Once it began, and I was told the rules (there were no rules), the other volunteers and I grabbed garbage cans from our room(fortunately mine had only laundry soap in it originally) and headed out. Water came from everywhere, went everywhere and we filled up at whatever hose or spigot was available.

The teenage girls we live with here in Cuernavaca weren't having any of it, nearly all of them stayed in their dormitory. So we did the only thing self respecting volunteers could do. One of us who didn't have an obvious amount of water opened the door, the rest of us ran in, and doused the girls as they ran screaming and laughing, ducking behind whatever cover they could find. The ones that ran to the bathroom received an extra soaking because it's all tile so we could throw whatever water we had.

We got back this afternoon and started working on the next water fight. Apparently, one is never enough, so the volunteers and house directors filled water balloons, called all the kids to dinner and as soon as the windows to serve the food opened, we started throwing them at the kids from the kitchen. Again, the running screaming thing seems to be a frequent response to this, but so is throwing the balloons that don't explode back into the kitchen. By the time we were done, just about everyone was soaked... again.

The Patio with the Girls Dormitory to the Right

I leave for Nicaragua on Tuesday and it's rapidly approaching. I've really enjoyed my time here and am looking forward to the next couple of days as well.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Laundry Day

View from the Laundry Patio

I finally did laundry today. No, I haven't been wearing dirty clothes this whole time! Really! The school I went to had a laundry service for less than $3, so I've been pretty spoiled and haven't done it myself.

In all honesty, I'm still pretty lazy about it. I didn't feel like walking down the street to the lavanderia, so I went up on the roof where there is a washing machine and a patio with clotheslines. I studied Spanish during the whole process which took about 4 1/2 hours from sticking things in the dryer until my jeans were dry. A thunderstorm rolled through meanwhile, but the air is so dry my clothes kept drying (there is a covered portion of the patio which is where I relocated my clothes when I realized the storm was coming).

Life it pretty laid back at the moment. I spent the morning doing a quantity take off (just concrete, formwork and rebar) of an elevated water tank for the Dominican Republic. Tomorrow is our last day of work this week because Thursday we're headed to Miacatlan (the part of the orphanage with kids 0 - 14 about an hour south of Cuernavaca). Christmas and Easter are spent as a family with all the kids together, all approximately 800 of them!

Sunday, April 1, 2007


This is the most common interior design style for a Ruta.

So the Ruta is a special thing to me because I've spent about an hour and a half a day, every weekday, for the last four weeks trying out all different kinds on my way to and from language school as well as any other time I travel in the city.

Whether it is copious amounts of crocheted fringe around the front windshield and rear view mirror or little statuettes of the Virgin Mary, the buses and drivers all have individual personalities. Sometimes your driver will be the race car - swervy - honking constantly kind, which is so incredibly loud you wonder if it will make the person in front go deaf, or if in fact the horn is somehow turned backward so it blasts the people inside the bus more. Sometimes the drivers chat with people at every stop and leave you wondering if you're really going to get where you're going today. The buses, for their part communicate differently too, some roar loudly a up the hill, others protest and bounce like you're on a dirt road. Some really are comfortable, quiet and clean, but I'm still not sure how to tell which ones those are as they're approaching you at 30 mph.

At 4 1/2 pesos (a little less than 50 cents), they're certainly economical and most drivers will cram on as many people as possible, while spending as little time at each stop as possible. This means that as you enter, you pay quickly and get out of the way. Generally this goes off without a hitch, but earlier last week I only had a 100 peso bill and in my apprehension to get out of the way, I told the driver that this was the smallest bill I had in response to his question, when in actuality, he had asked me where I was going. It also means that I have mastered getting off the bus in flip flops without it actually stopping.

I don't have any more school, so the Ruta stop will not be my first destination in the morning anymore, but I have a feeling I have plenty of interesting experiences with public transportation ahead of me!

A view of the 24th Military Base (Cuernavaca's Base) from
the backseat of the Ruta.